One of my real treats here in Finland is discovering all the local foods – both the daily staples (kotiruoka; koti = home, ruoka = food) and the dishes associated with special occassions (perinneruoka, perinne = traditional). I thought I’d write a bit about some of our favourite local foods today – and I’m feeling hungry just thinking about it all!
Leipäjuusto (leipä = bread, juusto = cheese) is a lovely firm and subtly-flavoured cheese. It is similar to Halloumi in a number of ways – the most noticeable being its appearance and its texture. Indeed, leipäjuusto is a “squeaky” cheese like Halloumi, and this is reflected is one of it’s other names, narskujuusto (narsku = crunch, scrunch, grind). According to Wikipedia: “[t]raditionally, leipäjuusto was dried and could then be stored for up to several years. For eating, the dry, almost rock hard cheese was heated on a fire which softened it”. You can buy leipäjuusto in most grocery shops, and it is easily recognizable by its shape and colour (it is sold as large discs or semi-circles a few centimeters thick, and has a white surface that has been grilled brown). Next time we buy some I’m going to to follow the advise I’ve had from a few Finns – we’ll warm it in the oven and then eat it hot with a spoonful of jam!
Silli is the Finnish name for the Baltic Herring (not to be confused with Siili, the Eurasian Hedgehog!). These fish are prepared in a variety of ways, but our current favourite form is pickled in a mustard (sinappisilli) or sweet black pepper and garlic sauce (maustesilli). It is great on bread, and is becoming a favourite picnic food (we enjoyed it with Jesse when picnic-ing at Kivinokka). There’s also a special Vappu variety served in a creamy dill sauce – very, very nice!
I’m eagerly awaiting berry season – it is both a part of the Finnish culture and economy. When we were in Tiilikajärvi National Park Miska showed us the wild cranberries growing in the marshy areas – some of the berries were quite sour (maybe not quite ready to be picked), but the good berries were great. It was lovely to stop and inspect the vegetation and be able to snack on the cranberries at the same time. Now we still have a bit of a wait for the other types of berries – the blueberry bushes which are fairly common even in the forests in the city have already flowered (you can see a photo from a month ago here), but will only bear fruit after mid-summer. The strawberries are flowering now around here, and these berries are available from southern Europe in all of the shops. Miska has also pointed out places to look for raspberries… mmm, it’s going to be great! Cloudberries, lingonberries, bilberries, …
And one food that we’ve seen around, but probably won’t try soon is the korvasieni (korva = ear, sieni = mushroom). This type of false morel is also known as a brain or beef steak mushroom, and contains a highly toxic compound. Because the toxin is water-soluble it can mostly be removed by repeated boiling (although apparently some people are even sensitive to the steam when boiling the mushrooms). However, it is maybe a rather controversial food – some research suggests that the toxins can slowly accumulate in humans, and some countries don’t allow their sale at all (for example, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland). In Finland these mushrooms can be sold freely, but there always has to be a sign displaying the proper cooking procedures and the potential dangers. We saw many of these mushrooms growing in the forest in Tiilikajärvi National Park, and have seen them on sale in the Hakaniemi market – but I’m happy to give them a skip!